The final play of this game was an 86 yard interception return. Bearcats cornerback James Wiggins turned a Ben Hicks fourth down pass in overtime into Cincinnati’s first overtime victory in a decade.
James Wiggins’ interception capped off one of the most toenail biting afternoons in recent Cliftonite history.
Cincinnati rebounded from their loss last Saturday at Temple with a plucky performance in University Park, Dallas. The Bearcats outlasted a game SMU football team on a cloudless autumn afternoon in half-empty Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Cincinnati posted a 26-20 overtime, road win, which improved their overall mark to 7-1.
SMU coach Sonny Dykes wore an unflattering striped polo shirt. Luke Fickell looked resplendent in his onyx windbreaker.
The first half was a bit of a slog. Cincinnati and Southern Methodist traded touchdowns in the first quarter. Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder lit up the Mustangs’ secondary with a 32 yard strike to Khalil Lewis to give Cincinnati a 7-0 lead. Ridder went on to throw for 352 yards while Lewis posted a career high 174 receiving yards over 12 receptions.
The good times didn’t last. SMU’s veteran signal caller Ben Hicks matched Ridder late in the first quarter, hitting Reggie Roberson for 8 yards and 6 points. A Kevin Robledo extra point tied the game at 7.
This proved to be the last scoring play of an often ugly first half. Cincinnati moved the ball successfully on several occasions. Desmond Ridder, in particular, piled up big chunks of passing yards against the SMU defense. Unfortunately, Ridder’s interception woes continued, as two promising drives ended when the young quarterback completed passes to representatives of the Wesleyan confession.
Cincinnati came out of the locker room, all hachi machi. The Bearcats pulled ahead to a 17-7 lead. Ridder hit Lewis for another 32 yard touchdown. Cole Smith added a field goal. Procul Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” crackled to life on my FM radio. I skipped the light fandago and turned cartwheels on the floor. All was right with the world.
Then SMU got all inhospitable, responding with 10 points early in the fourth quarter, tying the game, and harshing my mellow.
Cincinnati’s offense, which had moved the ball steadily all afternoon, failed to start for much of the fourth quarter, as the Dixie Wesleyan defenders made John and Charles proud with their sound tackling and opportunistic pass defense.
The Mustangs took a 20-17 lead with less than five minutes remaining as Kevin Robledo hit his second field goal of the game.
Cincinnati had two late chances to even the score. The first such drive was much ado about nothing. The second drive was like a debutante ball for Desmond Ridder. The youngster guided the Bearcats up the field for the equalizer, relying largely on his lithe set of gams.
Cole Smith responded to a pair of SMU icings by hitting a 42 yard last second field goal to send the game to overtime. And that’s where the magic began. And that’s the rest of the story.
I hope to see you all next Saturday at Nippert Stadium, cheering on your seven-win Cincinnati Bearcats against the Navy Midshipmen.